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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life with High Security

I'm not quite sure why this is the case, but it seems like every building I live and work in this year has security that would make Fort Knox proud.  Let me give you a sense of what I mean.

To get into my office at the Collegium, I have to go through two sets of doors just to get into the building, both of which have electronic locks that are active between 5 pm and 8 am.  Since I tend to work normal business hours, it's no harm, no foul.  Once I get through the doors and up to two flights of stairs to one of the main Collegium floors, I come to the first electronic lock that's actually a hinderance.  I go through that by waving my electronic key, then walk past about 8 offices and the xerox room to reach yet another door with an electronic key.  This is the one I completely don't understand, since I have to use my electronic key to get OUT of the series of corridors I'm already in and, when I go out that second electronic door, I enter a landing for a flight of stairs.  I mean, it would make sense if I was entering somewhere, but I'm actually LEAVING one set of offices--there's nothing there but stairs and an elevator! 

In any case, after going through the second electronic door, I walk a whole five feet across the landing to the THIRD electronic door where I swipe my key, walk c. 10 feet, and arrive at my office.  There I only have to use a regular key to get in.

By the way, I have to go through this rigamarole every time I want a cup of coffee or need to go to the bathroom!

If the electricity ever goes out, we're doomed. :-)  I say this because I can't even exit the building without going through at least one electronic door.

And this is the least complicated entrance into the Collegium and my office.  On one of the other routes, I have 3 electronic key stops and 1 time I have to use the electronic key to get the elevator to move.  Thank goodness I saw someone else wave their key in the elevator, or I'd probably still be stuck in it!

From what I've been told all the university buildings are like this, whether you're in the City Center campus, like I am, or out in the Medical and other campuses in the suburbs.

And that brings me to the Towers, which is a university building, so--you guessed it!--has the same high security.  To get into my apartment, you go through a locked front door, catch the elevator, go through another locked door to enter the second floor hallway where all the apartments are located, and then use another lock to get in the apartment itself.  There's no way to "unlock" your apartment door, so if you forget the keys, especially on the weekend, you're stuck.  Actually you're out 50 Euros because that's how much they charge to unlock things, that is, if you can call the security company, but that's another mystery which will be explained in the following paragraph.

Now all this security sounds fine, if a little extreme: you become obsessive about your keys and quickly learn where in the neighborhood you might be able to borrow a phone to call the security company, since there are no land-line phones in the Towers.  Yep.  Officially, if you lock yourself out, you can call the security company to let you in.  That means you must have a phone on you at all times.  Now I ask you: if you're likely to forget your keys, how likely is it that you'll always remember your phone?

Now I ask you to consider something seemingly simple: a dinner party.

The complications there came to the fore yesterday when I walked outside with Ted to find one of the nice Canadians I'd met pacing outside the building, staring at the second-floor balcony.  It turns out she had been getting ready to start yelling my name at the balcony because she wanted to invite me to dinner.  Good thing she didn't; my apartment doesn't actually attach to the balcony.  :-)  She'd tried to come down to my room, but all the various hallway doors were locked, and none of us yet has a European cellphone.

So she comes for a walk with me and Ted, and we strategized (her life with security here is even more complicated than mine because the Towers' personnel only gave them two keys for a family of 2 parents and 2 kids).  I planned to come up to her place at 6 pm, and she'd have one of the kids waiting in the hall (basically sitting in this corridor loitering) so that I could get into her apartment.  We also had to do some planning about dinner itself, because she doesn't have an oven or even one on her floor (unlike me), and because of the security thing, she can't use the oven on the floor below hers.  (We had this great laugh about stealth oven break-ins.)  So after much back-and-forthing together to each other's apartments, we managed to get food cooked and through all the locked doors.  I then made sure I arrived at 6 pm on the dot--I felt so sorry for her kids sitting in a dark, cement hall waiting for me!

All of this craziness but dinner was lovely.

I'd love to know the story behind Fort Knox Helsinki-style.  It's also made me want to try to organize a dinner party just to see if I can manage the logistics!

Off to my balcony and to get something productive done this weekend!  Don't worry; I'll remember my keys!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sorting through the Ghosts

As most of you know, I'm here in Helsinki to draft the first volume of my monsterpiece on belief in ghosts.  One of the best things about having a year like this isn't just the release from service and teaching, although that certainly helps; it's the chance to focus your thought on a subject for a year.  It makes me appreciate the classic "absentminded professor" more; they're just ones who can enter that research and writing mind-set even while supposedly teaching and doing committee work.  Me, I'm not like that, so I LOVE being able to indulge!

Probably my biggest challenge this year is figuring out how the heck to sort through all of this material.  Do you know I've got over 1,000 printed sources alone, and that doesn't include modern books written about earlier times?!  Then there are all the archives and manuscript materials!  Then there are the pictures!  BTW, old pictures of ghosts are kind of fun!  Here's just a few of the ones I've collected.

The Brown Lady of Rayburn Hall.
She's one of the ones that creeps me out considering that, while it would be relatively easy to fake this photo, there's been a lot of investigation of the actual circumstance and no fraud has been found.

I love this medieval one and always ask my students to guess which of the monks is the ghost.

This medieval one gives me the willies: an empty but animated shroud.  I haven't seen any other medieval ghosts like this; in fact, it isn't until the 18th c. that I see ghosts depicted this way.

Another great medieval one: winding sheet as body stocking.

Check out the number of arms. Is it a ghost or an insect?

The ghost as a crazy old dude.  I can't decide whether this story was meant to be scarey or comical.
This is from this great series of late 18th-century British satires.  The eyes crack me up.

I love spectral photography.
If you want something gross, you should check out the 19th-century shots of ectoplasm!
Cheesecloth coming out of people's noses--ugh.

This is only a small sample, too, folks.  Since I've started sorting my materials more thoroughly, I've found all sorts of great images.  Especially funny are the ones that the early publishers keep reusing.

One great product of doing this sorting in Europe is that any skill I have at foreign languages seems to be coming back with a vengeance.  I don't know why, but I'm finding in much easier to read the German, French, Italian, and even Spanish over here than in Columbia (Latin's never easy!).  I guess my brain is in "foreign language mode" from all the Finnish I see everyday.  Of course, it helps when you sort things by theme and language, so that you spend the morning dealing with English-language sources that focus on purgatory and the afternoon with French ones covering folklore.  I can't imagine being able to switch from one language to another automatically!

Well, now that I've managed to have a lovely, non-productive lunch break, I'm off to continue sorting my ghostly materials!

P.S.  One of the hazards of blogging from my office: the Finnish spellchecker attached to went nuts when I ask it to spellcheck this!  Pretty funny actually. :-)

Monday, August 22, 2011

You know you're getting more settled in when ...

As I headed into the Collegium today, I realized I'd passed that first threshold in getting more comfortable with a place--a threshold that, I should note, is often completely false given that it hits when you've only been in a place for a few weeks.  Being quite willing to indulge my delusions, though, here's my tribute to gradual comfort!

You know you're getting more settled into Helsinki when ...

1.  you start to know instinctively when your tram comes in the mornings (the afternoons are still a mystery);
2.  your response to finding yourself without an umbrella or raincoat during a rainstorm it just to glare at the sky and shrug it off;
3.  you have an official government id number;
4.  you laugh when you give a sales clerk the last 4 digits of that number and she can pull up your full contact and employment information;
5.  you get a monthly tram pass (needed that id number for that!);
6.  you get a Finnish cellphone (more need for the id number) and are appalled at how expensive American calling plans are;
7.  people stop you in the street for directions and you can actually give them;
8.  you can communicate with someone speaking Finnish through a lot of sign language and good will;
9.  you cut through shopping areas, underground passages, and the maze of buildings at the university weaving through the slower, more lost people and shaking your head;
10.  you notice when the lady you usually see working at the Market Square is working a new booth closer to the train station (ymmmmm);
11.  you walk into the train station, take a look around, and go, "Oh, okay.  It's just another European train station.  I can deal with this"; and
12.  (in a special homage to the Towers) you hear a high pitched beeping and think, "Ah, they're going to explode something again."

Made the mistake of discovering that the Finns make something like my all-time favorite French treat: a thin, pasty casing wrapped in martzipan and filled with custard.  The Finns fill it with something more like cream, but it's still decadent.  Thank goodness the only place that I see it near my normal walking patterns is in Stockmann's bakery, and I'm way too lazy most times to stand in the type of lines they get there!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Helsinki Orientation

I must admit that, as I typed that title, I was laughing: that's me, orienting people to a city I've lived in all of two weeks.  Then again, I though that you guys might like to have a general sense of the layout since I'm going to be referring to some places all the time and I know that I'll forget to orient you.

Since I'm a map person--one of those weird characteristics that I'm grateful to have when I travel!--let me give you a map of the downtown area, which is basically where I spend my life in Helsinki.

The red dot on the left side by the street called Mechelininkatu is where I live, the Töölö Towers (I can see I'm going to be an expert at typing umlauts by the end of the year!); the other red dot is where the Collegium is in the University area.  The areas in black here are some of the main tourist areas, while the names in brown are just a few of the "neighborhoods" in Helsinki.  I say "just a few" because it seems like every 3 block square area has its own neighborhood name.

One of the most striking things to me when I first got here is how deceptively large this map makes the center of Helsinki look.  The city itself has c. 600,000 people and the metropolitan area c. 1.2-1.3 million, but given the population density, those numbers can give a false impression of the size, especially of the city center.  The core of Helsinki is really not particularly large--lovely but not large.  Quite manageable for a pedestrian, in fact.  To give you a sense of its size, I can stroll from my apartment to my office at the Collegium in c. 1/2 an hour; the tram ride takes all of about 10 minutes with a 5-minute walk.  I can walk Ted to the beach near us in all of 10 minutes.

Well, before I brought Ted to the Collegium, I decided to test him on the tram and generally spend a day wandering around Helsinki.  (Yes, I realize I'm out of chronological order on my blogs. :-)  )  So after a stop at the lovely park across the street,

we headed to downtown, where we got off at the mecca for ex-pats and wealthy old ladies with designer dogs: Stockmann.

Actually I make fun of it, but it's a great department store and wonderfully convenient, considering that it has almost everything under one roof and I walk near or by it everyday I go to the Collegium.  Think of it as a cross between Macy's Union Square or New York and the Harrod's food hall.  In fact, the grocery store in the basement is lovely, if expensive.  It has all different types of food, a great selection of meats, fish, veg, and fruits, and even has stuff that I can use to make my traditional "tacos for Christmas" dinner!  (And the dog crack is because Stockmann does allow dogs in the store, just not the food areas.  The only people I've seen take advantage of this are ladies from the "appropriate" classes with the appropriately small dogs; I've been tempted to bring Ted in just to watch people's reaction, but that's just a wee bit too evil of me.)

One of the things I find interesting about Helsinki is the mix of older-style European buildings in stucco, stone, and brick and the very modern steel and glass ones as you see here.

While I know intellectually how to appreciate the very modern ones, they're just not my style.  I also keep imagining the contortions people must go through to keep them from rusting with all the rain and snow.  Then again, I suppose some rust is part of the look, but I'm just too traditional stylistically to appreciate it.

In any case, Ted and I headed down the Alexsanterinkatu (one of the main shopping streets)

towards the Collegium and, after a few blocks, cut down another block to the Esplanades.  Basically those are two streets with a big park in the center (kind of like what I have across the street from my apartment), but these are the ones that have very posh restaurants and shops on them.  They also seem to be a hang-out for huge numbers of workers and students during the day.  It makes perfect sense; they're beautiful right now.

If you follow the Esplanades to the water, you run into one of the big open market squares and to several of the main ferry docks.  The market square is really interesting, although I wonder how much business it does with locals versus people just off the boats, so to speak.  The stalls seem to alternate between vegetables, fruit, and fish with some places to buy cooked food and coffee; I learned from one of the vegetable ladies that there's a law that a vegetable stand can't sell fruit and visa versa.  

While wandering through with Ted--he can go in the outside areas, just not the covered market--I ran into two nice ladies running a stall, one of whom had a daughter who lived in Florida.  They were very friendly, so they've now become my vegie stop (and source of information about the market law).  They were big dog fans and loved the fact that Ted liked their green beans.

The fish stands look interesting, although I haven't yet gotten enough moxy to try them.  I can't tell if the fish is actually coming from that boat and that fisherman or if they're just playing the part to sell things to us touristas.  The next time I see the nice vegie ladies I think I'll ask for a recommendation.

One thing I have tried are some of the berries here!  By dumb luck I arrived in the middle of Finnish berry season.  Although they are far from cheap, boy, are they delicious!

But enough food!

Like I said, right next to the market are several of the big passenger terminals for the boats going around the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland.  From there I could take boats to Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and a lot of other destinations.  Since I had Ted with me, I didn't go exploring around the terminals but headed along the big sidewalks that are right next to the water.

From there we wandered alongside the water from the Kauppatori (market square) all the way around Kaivopuisto Park at the far south end of central Helsinki.  (See, I told you I'd refer to places on the map!)   It's actually quite a lovely stroll with the Gulf of Finland and a series of small islands to the left and these granite outcroppings and very pricey apartments to the right.  When we hit the bottom, it turns out that there's this cool looking cafe, which I must try someday when I don't have Ted, and a huge crane that people bungie jump off of.  Several people did it while I was there, and all I kept thinking was, "Better you than me."  Ted meanwhile tried to mooch ice cream off the parents of one of the jumpers.

Once we got around the far end of the park, we clearly hit the nice mooring areas for private boats and the posh residences.

Out of curiosity, I went online to see how much homes in this area sold for: a ca. 2,500 square foot residence in the building pictured here was between 3-4 million Euros.  Definitely a place I'll have to visit, not live!  (although it does explain some of the wild rental prices I ran into)

BTW, I can tell Ted is really interested in my blogging; he's laying next to me snoring!

In any case, one of the cool finds down here was a little cafe where they'll let dogs sit; they even provide a water bucket for them.

Of course, I don't think it'll be open in the winter--then again, who knows--but I'll sure take advantage of it while the weather's good.

After refreshing ourselves with the snack of champions--Fanta and potato chips for me, water and potato chips for Ted--I took pity on a pretty pooped Golden and, after some r&r in the park, we headed back up to the center of town.  In the process, we walked through a lot of the areas where I'd looked at potential apartments, and I became even happier with the arrangement at the Towers; it wasn't that the neighborhood we were walking through wasn't nice--it was!--it was just much more cement and stone.  It kept imagining what a pain it would be taking Ted outside in the winter!

Finally, once we got back into the center I loaded Ted onto a crowded tram with the approval of a group of tram inspectors and practiced my tram balancing act.  It's funny; I used to be so good at moving trams and buses that I didn't even need to hold anything.  Guess it's another of those "childhood" skills I have to relearn. :-)

In any case, that's more about Helsinki and our wandering than you probably ever wanted to know.  Next post will be mainly pictures of our more personalized and much messier apartment!

BTW, Ted's tummy is much better now. Thanks to all of you who asked about him!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ted goes to the Collegium

Actually, Ted's first day at the Collegium was yesterday, but after a long day in front of the computer, I just couldn't face blogging.

As you might imagine, Ted was quite pleased with himself when he got "dressed" for work.  (Please note, Kim, that he's wearing one of the new, Helsinki scarves that you gave him.) :-)

We then walked across the park to the tram, which Ted handled like a pro even though he'd only been on one twice before.

He just settles down between my legs and watches the world go by.  Usually after a stop or so, he even lays down.  Yesterday he was laying down when some college students wearing shorts got on and stood right in front of him.  I don't even know if they noticed him until he leaned forward and licked one of the guy's legs!  The guy looked back, startled, and started cracking up.  I'm glad he was so cheerful because Ted moved so fast I couldn't stop him.

Once we got into the office, I unloaded everything in the office, picked up his water bowl to fill, and headed off to introduce him.

He got quite the reception since it appears that many of the staff themselves have dogs and you know how much he hates people.  In fact, I finally had to keep him from flopping over so much for belly rubs and petting because I was worried about what the slippery floor might do to his knee if he pushed it too much.

Other than Ted's introductions, and a couple of fellows stopping by the say hi to him later in the day, it was pretty much a normal day in the office: I got a sore tush from sitting so long at the computer and Ted supervised.

Ted shared some bananas for lunch, and we strolled down to one of the market squares--it's about 3 blocks from the Collegium--to pick up some vegies and chat to a nice lady that we met there at the end of last week.  (While I'm losing weight as usual in Europe, I think Ted's put a little on, so it was time to supplement with green beans again--expensive supplement here!!)

Then about 6:30 we piled back onto the T3 (I try to avoid rush hour and the trams when I have Ted) for another exciting evening of dinner, hanging out on the balcony, and watching the X-Files.  I think, if everything keeps working so smoothly, I'll let him come in with me a few days a week as long as it's not raining or the weather is not too crazy in general.

That being said, I probably pushed and indulged him too much yesterday because let's just say I found out that his tummy wasn't quite right when I got back to the apartment today.  Green beans, bananas, treats from staff, a rawhide, and his fish oil tablet ... what a surprise that his tum was upset. :-)  So Ted's on Pepto Bismol, I've rediscovered that Listerine makes a wonderful cleaner as well as antiseptic, and I'm sitting here laughing about coming down from my traveler's high with a crash!

We're off to the balcony.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Musings for the Day

Today was pretty much how I imagine most days will be here: get up, putter, take the tram into work, chat with people in the Collegium, and start working.  In other words, nothing big to report unless it's the amazingly clear reception my broadcasts of "This American Life" get over the wifi in my office.  (I've also just started my 9-season set of the X-Files.  I'd forgotten just how good season 1 was!)  Tomorrow, though, will be Ted's first visit to the Collegium, so that should be quite the odyssey.  (Just noticed that His Majesty is lounging on the bed in recovery from his first bath, in other words, pre-debutant preparations.  Poor baby will not appreciate it when I make him go out again tonight.) 

With that in mind, I figured today I'd just post some of the weird musings I've had and other observations I've made since I came here.

1.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm losing whatever linguistic ability I might have had because I'll be d-d if I can figure out anything with Finnish.  Yes, I know that it's an agglutinizing language, and all my previous language experience doesn't apply, but it does drive me na-nas when I can't even remember how to say "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me," much less some of the names of folks at the Collegium.  My total vocabulary remains "hi" (hei or moi) and "thank you" (kiitos).

2.  One advantage of foreign internet connections: the NYTimes' limit of 20 articles a month doesn't seem to apply!

3.  Please explain to my why I choose to move to Europe the year the dollar takes a dive.

4.  What is WITH the price of shampoo and conditioner in Finland?!  I mean basic stuff can cost 6-7 Euros ($11-14) a ca. 12-oz. bottle; you don't even want to think about the price of Redken, Bed Head, etc.  Even dog shampoo is affected; in fact, it's worse: small bottles of dog shampoo seem to run 12-19 Euro, that is, $17-35!!  Thank goodness, I found some Head and Shoulders for Ted (best dog shampoo out there!) for all of $7 Euros.  The Finns have lovely, clean hair, so they must have a special budget for hair products.  :-)  I mean, I can buy a decent bottle of wine for less than conditioner!  (Maybe I should just drink the wine and forget about the hair?)

5.  It is true that the Finns have a lot of American TV programs, but I do have a bone to pick about the shows that the stations choose.  The Simpsons, Criminal Minds, and Glee are fine, but do Finns really need to learn about America from such sterling examples as Bridezillas!?!  Agh!

6.  I've decided the university is almost too secure for me to handle.  In order to leave the hall where my office is located, that is, to go to the bathroom, I have to press an exit button to unlock the door at the end of the hall.  Took me a few minutes to figure that one out!  If the power ever goes out, I'm doomed. :-)

7.  Is it just me, or does this lady look way too happy about her fire extinguisher?  (This is next to a fire extinguisher hanging across the hall from my office.)

On that cheery note, I'm off to bed.  Wish me luck with Ted tomorrow!  (And no rain.  I absolutely refuse to bring him in if it's raining.  An office smelling like wet dog.  Yuck.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Day at the Collegium

Well, today I gritted my teeth, told myself that Ted and I were as well settled as we could be at this stage, and took myself to the Collegium.  It was a good idea for lots of reasons, not least of which was that it's been gray and lightly rainy all day (think San Francisco with fog).  Horrible day just to sit in the apartment and work.  So I shut Ted in the apartment, dug out my umbrella, and headed for the tram.
Helsinki has this killer public transportation system, but I got especially lucky because I can take the tram instead of the bus (I don't get motion sick on the tram).  Here's a route map for the trams; I'm near the big lake, and the Collegium is where a bunch of the tram lines converge down and to the right of the late.

In fact, the tram by the Towers is 3T, which is the one all the guide books tell people get on if they want a cheap tour of Helsinki's main sights.  Here's the ole 3T in all its glory.

I already feel like quite the veteran given that people from all over are hopping off the tram and looking completely lost almost anytime of day.  It's those little power-trips that make me feel more at home! :-)
In any case, once in downtown I headed the whole three blocks from the stop to the Collegium.  Although these pictures make it look quite barren, it's actually full of shops and restaurants until you get to the last block.  It makes sense, because this road runs parallel to one of the main shopping streets in Helsinki.

The funny part was, as I was walking, when I hit the building at the corner right next to the Collegium, I knew I'd made it to the university quarter (Universities on the European continent rarely have "campuses" like American ones do that are free from traffic.  More often than not, the university is a series of buildings in town.).  I mean, 60s-style cement, multicolored flags, and (unfortunately invisible here) rather institutional looking food services ... it HAS to be a university!

And just to the right past this previous building was the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (Fabianinkatu 24, Helsinki, for all of you who like to play with Google maps).  What can I say?  After all these years, I have good radar for university institutional architecture.  (although I wouldn't class the Collegium this way; it's very 1930s from the outside.)

Brief aside here: is it evil for me to admit that I remember things through the weirdest word associations?  Most of the time, too, they make me giggle.  For example, whenever I think of the Collegium's address (Fabianinkatu), the 50s singer comes to mind; the Finnish word "ravintola," which means restaurant, sticks because I think of ravioli.
Back to more "official" musings! :-)  I took the old style elevator to the Collegium's main offices --old style = metal grates for doors--and the staff who were there today were very friendly and helpful.  The office manager, Kaisa, gave me a tour of the facilities on multi-levels and walked me down the road to the office where I got my key (which was kept in a safe, something Kaisa seemed to think was hysterical--she's got a point!).  Everyone was so nice, but I'm sure that I've already forgotten half of what they told me.  They also made a big point of asking me when I was going to bring Ted; I found out later that they'd surveyed the incoming fellows to find out if anyone was allergic (no one is) so that I could bring him! :-)  Clearly, after that kind of reception, Ted is going to have to make some appearance in the Collegium.
That'll probably not be a big deal either because the office is huge and away from the main traffic pattern.

This picture really doesn't do it justice either; it's as big as the biggest offices at USC, and I love the huge windows.  Even on a gray day it looks bright.  Once I unpacked the boxes of books balanced on the desk, I at least had something on the shelves, but I'm clearly not going to make a dent in them.  It turns out, too, that the computer was already set up, and the tech support guy (Aarno) came in asap and got me authorized to access all the university websites, etc.
This whirlwind ended at 11:30. :-)  After that time, the staff left me alone so that I could "work on whatever schedule suited me."  :-)  :-) 
I could get used to being so special. :-) :-) :-)
Oh, almost forgot.  My excuse for typos this year is the keyboard that comes with my office computer.  See if you can figure out the difference.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On the Rooftops of Helsinki

In my last blog I mentioned two of my favorite things about our place in the Towers; now it's time for the third: the viewing deck.
When I first read about the Towers, one of the things I remarked on was the top-floor sauna.  (Sauna is one of those quintessentially Finnish rituals that I know I must do, but I want to be sure I do it "right," that is, in the Finnish way, when I first do it.)  In any case, they said that it was open to women on Saturday evening, and we could cool off afterwards on the next door viewing deck.  When I went exploring the building on day #2, I couldn't pass that up.
Well, it turns out that the front, top of the building is a glassed-in deck open to all the residents on select days but that the staff will let me and Ted on at any time.  (They say they don't want folks going up there to smoke, and since I don't smoke ... )  The entire front has those floor-to-ceiling glass doors and even the sides have these big, plate windows.  When you open up the windows you get this amazing breeze, and you don't have to worry about the height since you have 4' tall, metal barriers right in front of the windows.  Here, you'll see what I mean:

As you can see, the view is amazing!  I can sit here looking across Helsinki's rooftops or down at the lovely park right across the street from the Towers.

This park is fantastic, and it seems like it has mirror images all over Helsinki.  Basically it's a block-wide esplanade stretching from the beach to Helsinki's version of Central Park, Töölönlahti, on the other.  Along each side are these wide gravel paths for dogs and bikes and in the center is a soccer field, planting fields, and kids' playground with all sorts of swings, pools, play areas, and even enclosed play areas.  That way, even if you don't have a yard, your kids have lots of clean, green areas to play in (dogs aren't allowed in the kid areas, and people in Finland are VERY good about picking up after their dogs!).  The place is used all the time by people of all ages, but it never seems crowded.  It reminds me again of the many reasons I'm glad to be back in a socialized country.

You can also see, too, how close we are to the beach.  Hietaniemi beach is one of the big public beaches in Helsinki, and we're all of a block and a half from there and the parks that surround it.  While Ted's not allowed on the beach, there are walking areas for him all around it and even a dog park; in fact, I hear in winter that the bay there gets frozen and people regularly go walking, skiing, or skating on it with their dogs (walking for me, thank you!)
Tomorrow's my first day at the Collegium.  Wish me luck!

Welcome to the Towers

As some of you may know, almost as soon as I found out I got the EURIAS to come to Finland, I started worrying about accommodations, especially since I knew I'd bring Ted with me.  I spent hours going through rental websites--learning about Finnish/English translations while I was at it--and freaked out about the costs: ca. 1800-2000 Euro a month ($2500-3000) for a furnished, 1-bedroom apartment within 2 miles of work (I wanted to be relatively close to work because I wouldn't have a car to commute and I wanted to "experience" Helsinki, not live in the 'burbs, although admittedly that's an experience, too.  I didn't care about having anything big, though; a small 1-bedroom was all we needed.)  Life suddenly became much easier, and more affordable, when the Collegium (the research center) arranged for Ted and I to spend the year in university housing--classifying Ted as a "service dog" for the 2011-12 academic year in the process!

In 2010 the University of Helsinki developed the first of two high-rise apartment/dormitory blocks for international staff and scholars (generally ABD and up), and while most people stay up to a semester, it is possible to stay for the academic year--and about half the price of the open market!!  They're called the Töölön Tornit (Töölö Towers in English, which sounds some more like Duuhhluuhh) and are in what has turned out to be this great neighborhood all of about 1/2 a mile from the center of town and a little over a mile from the Collegium.

Sooo.... after a night where I learned that dogs CAN have jet lag--he woke me up at 1 am pacing and, trust me, he didn't need to go out--we managed to find a taxi that would accept Ted and with a lovely driver that helped me maneuver my crazy amounts of baggage to the front door.  There I was met by another helpful staff member who explained procedures--thank goodness, they were in writing in the room because I still wasn't entirely with it!--and helped me drag everything into the elevator to our room on the second floor  (Yes, me, Ted, the staff member, 2 suitcases, and 2 carry-ons equalled one incredibly full Euro-elevator!).  

Now brace yourself for a series of first-day photos!  Here's looking into our room from the entryway (note the massive stack of suitcases; I vastly overpacked, but that's for another blog):

Then there's the obligatory reverse shot.

  As you can see, Ted has already discovered his favorite room: the kitchen.

Looking from the living room into my bedroom and visa versa.

It didn't take long for Ted to explore the open shower area and to dive out in case I wanted to give him a bath!

After inspecting the premises, Ted finally collapsed.  Of course, that left me to do all the unpacking! :-)

By the end of the day, we'd started to make things a bit more homey: putting Ted's sheet on the bed in case he jumped up (which he did as soon as the sheet was unfolded), putting another sheet on the couch for the same reason (for some reason he's decided the couch is off limits, which is fine with me), and breaking out the dog toys and chews.

When I first moved in, I was a bit dismayed by the more institutional vibe; over the next few days, I came to realize that some of what I considered institutional was just a form of Scandinavian design.  Think Ikea.  Unfortunately, I'm not much of an Ikea kinda gal, but that can be fixed.  My plan over the next few weeks is to make the apartment more homey by adding some color to the place, and I'll post some images of the "new" apartment then!

More important, though, is the FABULOUS condition everything is in and how helpful the staff have been!  The mattresses are firm, the couch comfortable, and all of the appliances work really well.  The room is immaculate, and when I did have one, VERY minor issue, I had a repairman up in less than an hour (right after I got out of the shower, if the truth be told; I didn't expect anyone to move so fast!)

There are a series of other good things about the place, including the large, quadruple-glazed!, windows and the little balcony at the end of the hall.  At first you might not think the windows are so great, given that they look down onto a construction site. (The staff put us on the back side so that it would be quieter and on a lower level so that it would be easier for me to take Ted out--very thoughtful and, although I didn't realize it at first, a really good idea on many levels.)

It turns out that, by city ordinance, when you put in a certain number of residential units (like the Towers), you are required to build a certain amount of underground parking.  That strikes me as a very sensible law, but it's complicated by the fact that the city is built on granite!  I learned about that on day 2 when I was sitting at my dining table/desk and heard a sudden, high-pitched beep.  Imagine the sound a truck makes backing up but on steroids.  It got more and more frequent until there was sudden silence and an explosion that made the building shake!  After a second I realized that they were BLASTING right outside my window!  I suppose it's a good sign that I cracked up rather than panicked.  It turns out that the blasting happens about once every two days and it'll be over next week; then it's just ordinary construction noise from 9-6 M-F until April.  Since Ted's totally cool about everything and I'm at the Collegium most of the day, I'm just left wondering how the heck they'll build during Finnish winters.  This I've got to see!

Cool thing #2 is the "lounge" at the end of the hall.  In reality, it's a misnomer; it's a good, basic kitchen with two, 4-seater Ikeaesque dining tables and another area with 5 Ikeaesque lounge chairs.  That being said, those lounge chairs are darned comfortable, and I can open a set of floor-to-ceiling, quadruple-glazed doors (you can see that I find the quadruple glazing a bit of a mind-blower!) and sit out on this lovely balcony overlooking the front entrance and our local park.  Probably Ted and I spend about 2-3 hours a day out there, him watching and me doing my reading.  It's a good substitute for the screened porch.

Well, I was going to include images here of the highlight of Töölö Towers, but I seem to have seized up the Blogger photo loader.  Guess that means the viewing deck will be the next entry.